It was a glimpse into Paradise. The sun caught the old town first, its jumble of faded pastels glowing like the gilded ceilings of the Vatican – yellow, pink, rose, white, red, orange, grey and cadmium; medieval plasterwork rising joyously from the silky sea as it had done for more centuries than she could even comprehend.
Next the light would hit the mountains up beyond, their dark wooded valleys and bare silver rock-faces diffused behind the daily haze of early morning cloud. By ten the cloud would burn away, heat smothering the land with a shimmer of dry-roasted air.
Lucy would wake, tie on her sarong and carry her freshly brewed coffee out onto the balcony to watch the day begin.
She would hear them first: the crunch of footsteps on gravel in between the tracks. Always in bands of two or three, sometimes four, though never more than five. A larger group was far too obvious. Red rag to a bull.
At first she was surprised by their tidiness: pristine white trainers, crisp shirts and jeans, mirrored sunglasses, spotless backpacks – once she'd even seen a label still dangling from a pack – and they all had mobile phones glued to one ear, chatting as they cast worried glances back over their shoulders or peered intently up the tracks ahead. The white of their eyes and teeth flashed in the first probing rays of sun and, early evening, when the last few drifted by after the sun had sunk, that same flashing glow of white reminded her of the bioluminescence found in strange alien sea creatures hidden from the known world. The irony wasn't lost on her; she hated that in some minds such links were literal.
She'd stumbled on the reason for their neatness one evening on her ritual walk. Just beyond the border, where the road wove up the hill towards the first of Italy's charming little hilltop towns, she'd spied a gully filled with cast off clothes and tattered sandals spilling out of plastic bags. So this was where they ditched the smell of poverty and desperation to don the trappings of the Promised Land – that place where troubles, fears, and deprivation would somehow fall away … if only they could get across the border and blend in with the crowd.